My illustration process – Part 2

illustration process


In my previous post, I wrote about my illustration process for personal work.

But what happens with client work? The stakes are higher here. The process is also likely a big mystery to the client. Get beyond the “they just draw pictures all day” stereotype. Let them know they’re working with a professional.

Let the process drive the outcome. This is the language of design/illustration AND business. The artwork can’t exist on its own and needs constraints. If the final artwork doesn’t meet the goals of the client and their company, then appealing visuals become meaningless.

Much of this process has been crafted from when I did graphic design work. The principles are the same.


1. Project inquiry

You’re contacted, either directly or through a submission on your site.


2. Email/Skype/Phone

Basic information gathering and discussion of the the project. You should be watching out for red flags at this point.

Gather info on things such as:

  • Names (get the spelling right!)
  • Titles and roles in the company
  • Business name and years in the business
  • Contact info


3. Statement of Work

I call it a Statement of Work but essentially it’s an estimate. Outline the deliverables, timelines and cost estimate and present to the client.

NOTE: I strongly recommend you have a terms and conditions policy to go with the statement of work. I wrote about that here.


4. Agreement

If they agree, the client signs and returns the Statement of Work and terms and conditions. If not, be gracious, say thanks, and wish them well.


5. Receive deposit

I typically require a 50% deposit before any work begins.


6. Begin Project

I “officially” begin work on the project.


7. Establish Parameters

This is the “discovery” phase of the illustration process. From a Q&A with the client I’ll develop a briefing document. Much of this info I will already have from step #2. At this point, I’m drilling down deeper into what’s required.

Some things I’ll ask are:

  • What is motivating you to do this project now?
  • What should the design accomplish?
  • What does your audience care about?
  • How does your audience learn about your product, organization or service?
  • Where will the artwork be used?
  • Are there any existing brand colours or colour preferences?
  • Who will be working on this project from your end?
  • What are the technical requirements?
  • When are concepts due?
  • When is the final artwork due?
  • Anything else you’d like to add?

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Use it as a guide to develop your own questions, based on the type of work you do.


8. Develop Briefing Document

After establishing the parameters, I will develop a comprehensive briefing document. The client signs-off on this before proceeding.


9. Research

Based on the parameters discussion, I’ll conduct my research, generate moodboards, and gather anything inspiring. I may still forward questions to the client if I need further info. I will jot down ideas, just so I don’t forget it later (it happens).


10. Idea Development

This is where I’ll actually get into concepts, layouts and colour schemes.


11. Presentation

It’s preferable to present concepts in person. The reality is many of us work remotely, and this may not be possible. In this case, a phone (or video) call to review the concepts is the next best step. Emailing the concepts “cold” should be a last resort, even if you include a written rationale. In my experience, clients usually skip right over this and go right to the visual. They don’t get the benefit of the set-up, and have often already started passing the concept around the office.


12. Refine Concepts

Revisions are a part of the illustration process. It’s up to you to manage that.

All stakeholders—including yourself—should be asking the following questions:

  • Does a revision meets the objectives of the brief?
  • Does it serve the customer?
  • Does it move us closer to the end goal?

It’s important that you be specific with the client about what’s not working. Encourage them to ask if they’re not sure about something you did. It’s much better to get out in front of a potential problem than have it crop up weeks or months into a project.

Don’t take things personally—revisions are inevitable. Remember, it’s not about the client. It’s about their audience.

The best type of feedback is descriptive, not prescriptive. The client should be choosing the problem, not the solution. When you present a solution, you need the client’s help to evaluate it, but not to fix it. Think more about goals and less about colours, etc …

Some examples:

Not-so-good: “Make the lettering look like Arial.”
Good: “We feel san-serif lettering is a better fit for our company culture.”

Not-so-good: “Add some bright orange to the lettering.”
Good: “We’d like the lettering to have good visibility.”


13. Final Design

Present final artwork to the client.


14. Client Approval

The client signs off on the final art. I typically require a signed PDF, but in the case of expediency, an approval via email will suffice.


15. Develop package

This will depend on the deliverables. If it’s an electronic file, that usually means a PSD, TIFF, JPG, etc …


16. Final Invoice

Thank You!


Links in this post

Protect yourself by watching out for these freelance red flags

Do you need a terms and conditions? Yes.